“Working on chess tactics and checkmates will help you win more games. It develops your pattern recognition and your board vision’ your ability to capitalize on opportunities.
This Workbook features a complete set of fundamental tactics, checkmate patterns, exercises, hints, and solutions. Peter Giannatos selected 738 exercises based on ten years of experience with thousands of pupils at the prize-winning Charlotte Chess Center. All problems are clean, without unnecessary fluff that detracts from their instructive value.
The Workbook has ample room for writing down the solutions to the exercises. This is helpful for both students and coaches, who can assign homework from the book without having to worry about being unable to review the solutions. And writing down the correct chess moves will greatly accelerate your learning process.
Everyone’s First Chess Workbook offers you a treasure trove of chess knowledge and more than enough lessons to keep you busy for a year!”
“Peter Giannatos is the founder and executive director of the Charlotte Chess Center & Scholastic Academy, in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. Peter has been teaching and organizing chess for more than 10 years. As a teenager, he boosted his chess rating from 589 to over 2000 USCF in less than four years. Since then, Peter has achieved both the FIDE Master title and the US Chess National Master title. He now spends most of his time teaching his students the same techniques he used to rapidly improve.”
As with every recent New in Chess publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing”.
Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text. Being a workbook the layout is quite different to most from New in Chess. It is superbly laid out and attractively produced.
We are constantly reminded that size does not matter when it comes to chess books, however, this new book from New in Chess immediately creates an impression. Weighing in at just under a kilogram and sporting dimensions of 22 x 2 x 28 cm this must be NICs largest publication for a very long time.
This is a workbook containing generous space for the recording of answers to the puzzles and the making of notes. Usually there are three positions per page with the positions occupying the left hand column and the answer space the right hand column. The carefully worded solutions are all contained in Part IV meaning bumping into the solutions accidentally is easily avoided.
Before we go further we may Look Inside which included the following Table of Contents:
The author has assembled a collection of 738 exercises of which 692 are examined by way of a test and the balance are examples.
The approach is to
Provide a definition of what the exercise theme is about,
Give around a dozen “Guided Examples” in which there is a strong hint
Set around 20 or more test exercises with no hint
If you solve tactics puzzles on a regular basis then the bulk of the exercises will not challenge you with the exceptions of Chapters 20, Combinations/Setting Up Tactics and the interesting Chapter 21, Finish Like The World Champions.
Chapter 19 is very much in the style of the legendary book, Art of Attack in Chess by Vladimir Vuković in that the author provides examples of named checkmating patterns introducing the “Kill Box” and Vuković’s checkmates not mentioned by name in the original book. To find out what these are you will need to buy the book!
In our opinion, this is the perfect trainer for
Adults returning to the game after a long lay-off
Juniors of secondary school age
coaches / teachers needing examples for their students
The explanations are crystal clear with no undefined jargon or strange expressions.
Firstly, we liked the correct use of terminology in that all pieces are shown giving forks including pawns and kings. Some texts believe that the label “fork” should be reserved purely for knights and that the other pieces deliver double attacks: Hurrah for this correct approach.
Secondly, the author differentiates between skewer and X-Ray and clearly shows the difference. For example this (#205) is a skewer:
once Black has found the correct move. On the other hand, this (#354), with Black to move,
is designated as an X-Ray tactic.
The bonus section of the book has to be Chapter 21, Finish Like the World Champions, which features 47 exercises from games of the sixteen world champions from Steinitz to Carlsen. Part of the exercise is to describe the themes used in the example. Here is a nice finish from the tenth World Champion, Boris Vasilievich Spasski in the 1960 game from Kislovodsk, Kuznetsov vs Spasski:
In summary, Peter Giannatos has created a unique and instructive trainer for a market that has been little satisfied and that is the post-Queen’s Gambit / lockdown created adult beginner. It has been superbly produced by New in Chess in a format quite new to them.
So, if you know of adults new or returning to chess then you could easily recommend this. Juniors of secondary school age new to chess will also benefit.
“The easiest, quickest and most effective way to improve your overall game is to increase your tactical vision. Many good positions are lost because a key moment is passed by and a player misses the opportunity to win by a beautiful combination. This book is designed simply to help you improve your play by seeing tactics better.” – Martyn Kravtsiv
Written along similar lines to Gambit’s earlier Ultimate Chess Puzzle Book, this new work presents 600 puzzles, mostly from the last two years, that are chosen for instructive value and maximum training benefit. To ensure that few will be familiar to readers, Kravtsiv has deliberately chosen positions from obscure games or from analysis. If you find the right answers, it will be because you worked them out yourself!
The solutions feature plenty of verbal explanations of the key points, and cover most of the logical but incorrect answers. The book is completed with a set of ‘no clues’ tests, and an index of themes that will be useful to coaches and those looking to focus on specific aspects of tactics – or just seeking extra clues!”
From the rear cover:
“The author is an experienced grandmaster from Lviv, Ukraine. His tournament results include tied first places at Cappelle in 2012 and the 2015 Ukrainian Championship, as well as being blitz champion of the 2008 World Mind Sports Games (at age 17). He represented his country at the 2017 World Team Championship and was a coach for the team that won silver medals at the 2016 Olympiad.”
Just like “Snakes on a Plane” you might imagine, from the title, you know what this book is about without reading it: well let us see!
The first mystery to clear up is what does the author mean by “Puzzles”? Almost all 600 positions presented are taken from actual gameplay during 2018 and 2019 or from analysis derived from those games. Strangely, there is a tranche from 2012
mostly from the author’s own games.
If you do have a phobia of problems, fairies or endgame studies etc then have no fear here: there are none of these.
From the “Warming Up” Chapter we have position #36:
Theodor Kenneskog – Klavs Stabulnieks, 48th Rilton Cup, Stockholm, 2nd January 2019
Does Black have a way to get the upper hand?
*(We have added the previous move arrow and these are not shown in the book.)
71 warming up puzzles of multiple themes are followed by solutions with explanations which is the continuing pattern for each chapter.
Chapter 3 contains 29 forced mates and here is an example, #92:
Vahe Danielyan – Chinna Reddy Mehar, Novi Sad, 20th April 2019
Can you see White’s mating idea?
Chapter 3, Your Choice, asks the solver to select between two plausible options more reminiscent of one’s thinking in a practical game situation when the clock is ticking. Here is an example (#106):
Marc Narciso Dublan – Kratvtsiv, Olivier Gonzalez Memorial, Madrid, 8th September 2012
Choose between 74…Ke4 and 74…Kg5
Chapter 4 (“Getting Tricky”) ups the ante and the difficulty is raised followed by 58 endgame puzzles graded into four levels.
Here is example #283:
Anthony Fred Saidy – Thomas Kung, Bay Area Open, Burlingame, 3rd January 2019
The game ended in a draw. Show how Black could have done better.
Tough Nuts is the title of Chapter 6 containing 43 challenging positions for example #313:
Jonathan Hawkins – Bogdan Lalic, Hastings 2018/19, 5th January 2019 (Analysis)
Black has a beautiful path to victory. Can you find it?
Chapter 7 is a tougher version of Chapter 3.
In Part 2 the book changes tack slightly in that the clue or clues for each position are not present. You are placed in a much more game like situation thinking for yourself. The Part is broken down into sections of Not Too Hard, Tricky Tasks, Endgame Challenges and finally Chapter 11 entitled Nightmare! including #562 featuring Hastings once more:
Thomas Villiers – PU Midhun, 98th Hastings Masters, 4th January 2019
Unfortunately, White did not find the killer blow and went on to lose.
The exercises are followed by an Index of Themes which is a clever touch removing this “clue” from the position as posed.
As is to be expected from a Gambit publication the explanations are crystal clear and instructive and expertly translated and edited by Graham Burgess. Petra Nunn does an excellent job of typesetting.
To have found 600 instructive puzzles from 2018, 2019 and 2012 is a real achievement and then to organise them for a range of students makes this book both enjoyable and hard work!
The author has produced another reliable publication from the Gambit stable and we are sure he will be asked to produce another in due course. We particularly liked the puzzles that created a game-like feel to the task. Highly recommended.
Last time we left Twickenham’s finest chess problemist, Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull, as he was about to emigrate to Durban in 1892.
Unfortunately, South African online records, both births, marriages and deaths, and newspaper archives, are few and far between, but we are able to provide a fairly comprehensive record of his chess career in the southern hemisphere, both as a player and as a problemist.
This problem, submitted to a London newspaper, dates from soon after his arrival in Durban.
Problem 1. Mate in 3: 1st prize winner Hackney Mercury 1894
And here, continuing where we left off last time, is FR Gittins again.
We know from some useful information on the Durban Chess Club website that he was one of the founders of the club and was Durban champion five times, in 1901, 1903, 1904, 1906 and 1911
Lucas Bull was one of the founders of the Durban Chess Club in 1893 and the first person to win the Durban championship on five occasions, running out the winner in 1901, 1903, 1904, 1906 and 1911. He also participated in the South African championships on three occasions, finishing 9th in 1897, 7th in 1899, and 2nd on his final appearance in 1906.
Lucas Bull was born in Twickenham (part of London) in 1869, and came from a very large family, consisting of five sons (he was the third son) and four daughters. His father, Thomas Bull, was a surveyor and auctioneer, and must have had a profitable business, as the Bull family employed four servants at the time (source: 1881 census).
Bull arrived in Durban in 1892 and apparently chose South Africa, rather than the United States, as they don’t play cricket in the USA! He was already the champion of the Twickenham Chess Club, and was starting to get an international reputation as a problemist. From the date of his arrival, up until the time that he discontinued serious over the board play in 1907, he was almost certainly the strongest player in Natal.
Further information about his appearances in the South African Championships (1897: Cape Town, 1899 Durban, 1906 Cape Town) can be found on Rod Edwards’ indispensable EdoChess site.
Two games from the 1899 tournament, played in the shadow of the 2nd Boer War, are extant. Click on any move and a pop-up board will magically appear, enabling you to play through the games.
The Bock game. which was awarded a brilliancy prize, was published, for example, in the Newcastle Courant (17 March 1900). The van Breda game comes, via South Africa chess historian Len Reitstein, from the Durban Chess Club website (link above).
His best result was his second place in 1906, giving him an estimated rating of 2130: a strong club player at the time he gave up serious over the board chess (the 1911 Durban championship must have been a very brief comeback). The winner in 1906, Bruno Edgar Siegheim (1875-1952) was born in Germany, played chess in New York (1899-1904), South Africa (1906-1912) and England (1921-1926) before returning to South Africa. His best result was finishing 2nd= with Réti at Hastings in 1923, just half a point behind the great Akiba Rubinstein, which suggests he was IM strength.
We know very little about his life outside chess. It seems like he had enough money not to work and was able to devote his time to his hobbies. I presume he continued to play cricket in Durban, although newspapers from that period aren’t available online. There’s no archival record of Cecil ever having played first-class cricket.
What we do have is a couple of passenger lists.
A 1903 passenger list for a ship sailing from London to Port Natal lists Mr C A Lucas Bull (35), Mrs Bull (32), Miss B Bull (3), Mr C Bull (28). This looks like Cecil and his family visiting England and returning with Clifford, who was going to live with them in Durban. Cecil appears to have a wife and young daughter, but we have no further information about them.
A 1909 passenger list, again from London to Natal, offers Cecil Slade (sic) Lucas Bull, Eunice Chillingworth Lucas Bull and Bessie Lucas Bull. I have no idea where the Slade came from but it looks like he was married to Eunice and Bessie was their daughter.
He was still composing prolifically: here’s one from 1912.
Problem 2. Mate in 3: 1st prize winner Saale-Zeitung 1912
Here’s a photograph of him from 1913.
He continued composing successfully up until 1932, mixing heavyweight prizewinners with more lightweight offerings for the Natal Mercury. He died in Durban on 19 July 1935, at the age of 66.
Problem 3 is another first prizewinning mate in 3 from the latter stages of his career: British Chess Magazine 1931.
In 1960 Cecil’s friend and occasional collaborator Donald Glenoe McIntyre published Sonatas in Chess, a collection of 136 of his best threemovers (South African Chessplayer). This is a rare book and second hand copies go for high prices. I saw a copy for sale back in the 1980s but didn’t buy it – I really should have done.
I occasionally publish his more accessible problems on the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club website: see here and here.
At present I have no idea about what happened to Eunice and Bessie. I can find no information about anyone with the forenames Eunice Chillingworth, and the 1927 London marriage of Bessie L Bull to Robert Douglas King-Harman isn’t the same person.
There’s a prominent South African businesswoman named Wendy Lucas-Bull, who is married to Clive Lucas-Bull, and whose father-in-law is, or was, Leslie Arthur Lucas-Bull. Any connection? If you have any further information about Eunice, Bessie or any other relation do let me know.
Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull, chess champion of Twickenham and Durban, and multiple prizewinning problemist, this was your life.
Join me again soon for another delve into the Twickenham Chess Club menagerie.
A model mate is a type of pure mate checkmating position in chess in which not only is the checkmated king and all vacant squares in its field attacked only once, and squares in the king’s field occupied by friendly units are not also attacked by the mating side (unless such a unit is necessarily pinned to the king), but all units of the mating side (with the possible exception of the king and pawns) participate actively in forming the mating net.
“In 1971 Robert James Fischer defeated Mark Taimanov by the sensational score of 6-0 in Vancouver, but the match games were far more competitive and tension-filled than the final score would suggest.
Twenty years later Taimanov put pen to paper, reflecting on the experience. Exactly 50 years after the match, this is the first English translation of Taimanov’s original Russian text. Taimanov provides a richly detailed, honest and emotional account of the drama on and off the board. Despite the catastrophic match score, his love for the game of chess is evident throughout.
Taimanov also discusses his early acquaintance with Fischer from 1960, including detailed annotations of both of their pre-1971 games, as well as the personal consequences of the match result. With fascinating additional archive material and analytical contributions from some of the brightest young stars of the American chess scene today, I was a Victim of Bobby Fischer is the ultimate insight into one of the most famous matches in chess history.”
End of blurb…
Quality Chess live up to their name by being one of the few publishers who offer a hardback as well as softback version of all of their titles.
The production values are superb. You could save a few pence and opt for the paperback version but we would definitely treat ourselves with a Christmas / New Year present and savour the hardback. In addition, high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. The weight of this paper gives the book an even better feel to it as the pages are turned.
The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing”. Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to readily maintain their place. Figurine algebraic notation is used and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text.
A small (and insignificant) quibble: the diagrams (except for Chapter 19, Interesting Positions) do not have a “to move” indicator (but they do have coordinates).
Before we take our first look at this book Quality Chess have provided a pdf excerpt.
Over the years there have been numerous books with Taimanov somewhere in the title but almost all are concerned with his famous variation of the Sicilian Defence:
We are aware of two English language books covering Taimanov’s career. One is Taimanov’s Selected Games published in 1995 by Everyman Chess covering 60(!) games selected and annotated by MT. The second is Smyslov, Bronstein, Geller, Taimanov and Averbakh: A Chess Multibiography (McFarland, 2021) with 220 Games by Andrew Soltis reviewed here.
This Quality Chess title helps to address this surprising shortfall.
The title is perhaps the first worthy discussion point and we learn the interesting reason for it. Is it clear from the outset just how in regard MT held Fischer when he wrote this manuscript in 1993.
You might think that the events of 1971 had left a bitter taste with MT, and degree of resentment, especially when we read in Chapter 5 of his post match treatment by the Soviet authorities. The latter even restricted his career in music which was gratuitously cruel. There is no evidence of that here, in fact, quite the opposite. Taimanov stipulated in his will that should the book be published then “I Was a Victim of Bobby Fischer” must be its title.
Let us not forget that Taimanov jointly holds (and will always) a record with Efim Geller of twenty-three appearences in the Soviet Championships apart from his many other achievements on the chess board.
Taimanov played Fischer a total of eight times and their first meeting was on June 4th, 1960 in the good air of Buenos Aires.
This game was a monumental battle (drawn after eighty-seven moves) when Fischer was a mere seventeen and MT was a more plausible thirty-four.
Here is the game devoid of any notes simply because you really should treat yourself to the fourteen(!) pages of glorious annotations including 20 diagrams. What a struggle!
Much of the book is taken up with discussion of Fischer’s development and eventually his downfall (but nether MT nor Spike Milligan played any part) and this is particularly apposite on the eve of the Reykjavik match 50th anniversary.
Chapters 6-12 cover each game of the 1971 match (ten games were planned) in Vancouver. Each game is very much worthy of close study and a model of sporting attitude from the loser. It is painful to see how well Taimanov plays compared with the game results. At no point did he “do a Nepo” and collapse into a heap. His emotions and reactions to the match are rather revealing.
Chapter 13(!) discusses the causes of Fischer’s eventual reclusion comparing RJFs fate with players of the past with an update in Chapter 14 on more recent events.
You might predict “That must be the end of the book”. Well, not at all. Part IV contains the substantial Appendices which include additional deeply annotated games of Taimanov and of Fischer, a biography of MT and a fascinating interview of MT from 2016.
Almost last and by no means least we have Chapter 19 which presents a number of key positions from the previously discussed games and the reader is asked a pertinent question about each.
“We will look at three positions from this complicated game, all of them very interesting. In the first, Black has a difficult strategic decision to make”
Chapter 20 (titled “Thoughts and Solutions”) takes the Chapter 19 positions and analyses them in detail courtesy of a team of strong players (Shankland, Liang, Xiong and Aagaard) providing their individual opinions of each position. This is really rather innovative and most welcome. Note that these “thoughts” are not usurped by reams of unwelcome engine analysis.
In summary, this is a significant book quite unlike any other we have read. Beautifully produced it brings you into the mind of a great chessplayer and person who gave his all and was treated appallingly.
We commend to you this book without doubt: you will not be disappointed. One of our favourites of 2021.
If you’ve been paying attention you’ll have seen this before. I’d like to draw your attention to Twickenham’s Board 3, Mr. C. A. L. Bull.
In the world of over the board chess he was a Minor Piece, but in the rarefied world of chess problems he was undoubtedly a Major Piece. It’s not so easy, though, to piece together his life as there appear to be no genealogists in his immediate family.
Let’s take a look.
We’ll start with his paternal grandfather, Benjamin Bull. Ben was born in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, a town we’ll have occasion to visit again, but I haven’t as yet found any family connections with other chess players whose family came from that area.
He was a hotel proprietor and we can pick him up in the 1851 census running the Castle Hotel in Richmond, which was demolished in 1888, but its successor would, in 1912, be the venue of the British Chess Championships. It’s quite possible a future series of articles will enable us to meet some of those who visited our fair Borough in 1912 to push their pawns around wooden chequered boards.
Ben and his wife Mary Ann had five sons and a daughter. One of their sons, Richard Smith Bull, achieved some fame as an actor using the stage name Richard Boleyn, but our story continues with another son, Thomas Bull.
Tom, by profession an auctioneer and surveyor, was born in 1839, and, in 1865, married the 18 year old Julia Sellé, daughter of William Christian Sellé, doctor of music, composer, and Musician in Ordinary to Queen Victoria. Their first child was born in Ramsgate, Kent, but they soon settled, like all the best people, in Twickenham. Tom and Julia had 11 children, one of whom died in infancy, and it’s their fourth son, Cecil Alfred Lucas Bull, who interests us.
He was born (as Cecil Lucas Bull: he would sometimes be known as Lucas Bull) in the second quarter of 1869 and baptised (now Cecil Alfred Lucas) at St Mary the Virgin Church, Twickenham on 16 June that year.
In the 1871 census we find Tom and Julia, with four young children, Julius, Alan, Cecil and Beatrix, living in Sussex Villa, Clifden Road, Twickenham, close to the town centre. They must have been well off as they could afford to employ no less than four servants, a cook, a housemaid and two nurses to look after their rapidly expanding family.
In round about 1875 the family moved from Twickenham to Ferry Road, Teddington, just across the road from where, a few years later, St Alban’s Church would be built, and where Noël Coward’s family would both worship and entertain.
The 1881 census records Tom and Julia in Ferry Road, now with Julius, Alan, Cecil, Beatrix, Maud, Gwynneth, Clifford, Walter and Allegra, along with a nurse, a cook, a housemaid and a parlourmaid. Life must have been good for the prosperous Bull family.
This tells us that young Cecil (I think they missed a trick by not adding Ferdinand to his name, making him Bull, CALF) was only 17 when he first represented Twickenham Chess Club. Not exceptional today, but it would have been very unusual, although I haven’t found any specific reference to his youth, at the time. Playing on third board and winning both his games, he must already have been a more than useful player. He went on to win the club’s handicap tournament on two occasions, playing off scratch.
Even at that point, he’d been active elsewhere in the chess world for some time. His first problem was published in The Field in May 1885, just before his 16th birthday. It soon became clear that he was both exceptionally knowledgeable about chess problems and had a remarkable talent as a composer.
His first prize in the Liverpool Weekly Courier in 1886 caused a sensation and also a bit of controversy at the time.
Problem 1. White to play and mate in 3 moves. Solution at the end of the article.
Although he published a few mates in 2 and longer mates, and also a few selfmates, most of his problems were mates in 3. His younger brothers Clifford and Walter also had a few problems published in their teens, but seem not to have continued their interest.
As well as blockbusting prizewinners, Cecil had a knack for composing crowd-pleasing lightweight problems which would have been attractive to over-the-board players.
Problem 2, another mate in 3, was published in the British Chess Magazine in 1888.
Chess wasn’t young Cecil’s only game. From 1888 onwards we find him playing cricket for a variety of local clubs: Strawberry Hill, Teddington, East Molesey, Barnes before settling on Hampton Wick. He was a talented all-rounder, excelling with both the bat and the ball. (I’d have called him both a bowler and a batsman, but today, in the spirit of political correctness, we’re expected to use ‘batter’ instead. I’m afraid it just makes me think of Yorkshire pudding, though.) His teammates sometimes included his older brother Alan, and Edward Albert Bush, who, in 1891, married his sister Beatrix. I do hope they celebrated at the Bull & Bush.
Problem 3 is another prize winner: this one shared 2nd prize in the Bristol Mercury in 1890. Again, it’s mate in 3.
By 1891 the Bulls had moved again. They were now in Walpole Gardens, just by Strawberry Hill Station, with Beatrix, Maud, Gwynneth, Clifford, Walter and their youngest son, Basil. I haven’t been able to find Allegra in 1891. There were now only two servants. Did they need less help as their children grew up?
Cecil was in Bloomsbury in 1891, living ‘on own means’ in the home of a classics teacher who also took in boarders. It seems that he was wealthy enough not to need a job, so was able to devote his time to his hobbies of chess and cricket.
Here’s how FR Gittins would describe his early life in The Chess Bouquet.
And then, in 1892, everything changed. Julia died and the family started to disperse. Walter emigrated to America, where he would later be joined by Basil. Cecil, because of his passion for cricket, soon set sail for South Africa, where Clifford would later join him. It’s possible that the oldest brother, Julius, also emigrated to South Africa, but this is at present uncertain.
Meanwhile, Thomas married a widow named Margaret Crampton in Steyning, Sussex in 1895, and by 1901 they were living in Chingford, Essex. Clifford was the only one of his children still living with him. I haven’t yet been able to find the family in the 1911 census: I suppose it’s quite possible they were visiting one of Tom’s children in America or South Africa. It looks like Thomas Bull died in Chelsea in 1918 at the age of 78.
Do you want to find out what happened to Cecil in South Africa? I’m sure you do. Don’t miss our next exciting episode.
“Funny and brutal. A big-hearted book, I enjoyed it.’ Stuart Conquest, Grandmaster
‘Carl is gifted as both a natural entertainer and storyteller. Although this memoir is primarily about chess, the tales in it are filled with a frank and refreshing honesty that will literally have your heart racing with adventure.’ Jovanka Houska, International Master
Chess Crusader is an absolutely fascinating memoir, and most emphatically not only a book for chess players.
It reveals how chess is a metaphor for life, and how skills honed at the chess board can be applied in many real-life situations. This compelling chronicle takes you from Birmingham to Moscow, and plunges you into the life of an author with a remarkable original mind, while also highlighting the hazards of stealing a half-cooked sausage from a deranged German.
It’s a lively, enthralling account of a colourful life dominated by the black and white squares of the chessboard, and their relation to the wider issues of a troubled childhood and the challenges of work, women, love and loss. It’s a tale of adversity, but also of achievement and new friendships and experiences.”
After 30 years working with the Ministry of Defence, Carl Portman took early retirement to concentrate on freelance photography, chess coaching, natural history travel, writing and lecturing. He is a keen arachnologist, owns a large collection of live tarantulas and scorpions, and has bred some of the rarest arachnids in the world. Married to his childhood friend Susan, they also have three border collie dogs. Born in Birmingham, (a proud Brummie) he now lives in Oxfordshire.
Carl Portman’s work promoting chess in prisons (if you haven’t read his previous book Chess Behind Bars you should certainly do so) makes him one of the most inspirational figures in British chess.
Now he offers us an autobiography in which his life in chess features prominently. Carl was born on a Birmingham council estate in 1964 and, when he was still very young, his father left home, never to return. When he was 12, his mother, an alcoholic, remarried. Her new husband was a psychopath who was physically, verbally and emotionally abusive to both Carl and his mother.
Carl didn’t come from a chess-playing background, and was introduced to chess by John Lenton, a teacher at his secondary school. He soon became obsessed with the game, as he tells us, eventually becoming school champion.
Chess would therefore be my mental opiate; the living embodiment of disappearing down the rabbit hole. I played it in class, on the bus, in exams, in the toilets, in the playground, the chess club and in my room at home.
It would be the one thing I could turn to when the horrors of home life [were] raging around me. What a gift this was, from nowhere. Chess would never let me down.
Carl takes us through his eventful life, from his abusive stepfather through two marriages, from his schooldays into his working life, most notably 30 years working in logistics for the Ministry of Defence, including several years in Germany. One of the highlighs of his chess career was captaining his country in the NATO team championships in 2017 and 2018. We learn about his other interests: football (he’s a passionate Aston Villa supporter), heavy metal music and nature. There are many hilarious anecdotes to entertain you. He also tells about his serious health problems and how he learnt to live with them.
One thing Carl enjoys is meeting his heroes: he relates stories of travelling to France to play in a simul against Karpov, and arranging tuition from Mickey Adams and Jovanka Houska, as well as playing chess against the astronomer Patrick Moore.
In his last chapter he sums up as follows:
In this book, I have openly shared my experiences about the wonder of finding chess in my formative years and how it has shaped and influenced my life. The people I have met and the places I have visited have been wonderfully life-enriching, and the mental nourishment that the game provides is so powerful that I cannot quantify it.
Carl’s determination to remain upbeat and optimistic, whatever life throws at him, can only be an example to us all.
If you want some chess, there’s a short games selection at the back. Carl is particularly proud of this game from the 2017 NATO championships. He had the worst of things for most of the game, but his opponent mistakenly transposed into a losing pawn ending. ‘Never give up’ is his motto both in chess and in life.
It may not be great literature but the book’s a great read which will be enjoyed by most chess players. As no knowledge of the game is necessary for most of it, it could also be an ideal last-minute Christmas present for that special non-player in your life who, you think, ought to learn more about the delights of your favourite game. Be warned, though, that it’s not really suitable for younger children, nor for your Great Aunt Edna who doesn’t like books with naughty words. Carl is never afraid to speak his mind, even if he makes enemies in the process, and if you’re, like me, a politically correct, woke liberal, you’ll find words and opinions which might make you uneasy. If they make you think as well it might not be a bad idea.
Personally, I could have done without pages 231 to 254, which describe various types of annoying chess player, a negative chapter, most of which we’ve all read many times before, in what is otherwise a positive book. Omitting that chapter would, for me, have made it an even stronger book than it is already.
Books of this nature should be supported, though, so, if you think you’ll enjoy it, do give it a try.
I also see this book as part of a trilogy comprising the other two books I’ve reviewed recently, all deeply and at times brutally personal and confessional books by English chess players who, just as I did, developed a chess obsession in their teens. David LeMoir is a master standard player born, like me, in 1950. Carl Portman is, like me, a fairly strong club player, born in 1964. Daniel Gormally is a grandmaster born in 1976. Three players very different players, with very different personalities and lives, born half a generation apart from each other, whose stories, when put together, tell you a lot about chess in England over the past half century. I, of course, have my story as well: a very different story again, but I haven’t as yet had the courage to tell it. Maybe one day.
I would also suggest that Carl has, over the years, both put more into chess and got more out of chess than many much higher rated players. Yet, with today’s obsession with prodigies and champions, young people, like Carl, and also, to an extent, like me, from non-academic, non-chess backgrounds are no longer attracted to the game. Promoting chess at secondary school level may not be an efficient way of finding grandmasters, but Carl is living proof that it can offer transformation, redemption and salvation. I’ll be writing much more about this over the next few months.
Edgard Colle: Caissa’s Wounded Warrior : Taylor Kingston
From the publisher:
“One of Caissa’s Brightest Stars!
Mention the name “Colle” and many if not most chessplayers think about an opening that is both easy to play as well as one with dynamic potential. Rarely is any thought given to the man himself.
Plug the word “Colle” into your favourite search engine, and, if you are lucky, you might find a reprint of the slim 1936 book by Fred Reinfeld, Colle’s Chess Masterpieces. Books on the Colle System – of which there are many – will be your main search results. However, Belgian master Edgard Colle is much more than a name connected to an opening system. He was one of the most dynamic and active chess players of the 1920s and early 1930s.
Though his international career lasted barely ten years, Colle played in more than 50 tournaments, as well as a dozen matches. Moreover, he played exciting and beautiful chess, full of life, vigour, imagination and creativity. As with such greats as Pillsbury and Charousek, it was a tragedy for the game that his life was cut short, at just age 34.
Author Taylor Kingston has examined hundreds of Colle’s games, in an effort to understand his skills and style, his strengths and weaknesses, and present an informed, balanced picture of him as a player.
Colle emerges as a courageous, audacious, and tenacious fighter, who transcended the limitations his frail body imposed, to battle the giants of his day and topple many of them. 110 of Colle’s best, most interesting, and representative games have been given deep and exacting computer analysis. This often revealed important aspects completely overlooked by earlier annotators, and overturned their analytical verdicts. But the computer’s iron logic is tempered always with a sympathetic understanding that Colle played, in the best sense, a very human kind of chess.
Though not intended as a tutorial on the Colle System, the book of course has many instructive examples of that opening. Additionally, there are several memorial tributes, biographical information about many of Colle’s opponents, his known tournament and match record, and all his available tournament crosstables. We invite the reader to get acquainted with this wounded but valiant warrior, whom Hans Kmoch called a “chess master with the body of a doomed man and the spirit of an immortal hero.” You are invited to explore the fascinating, fighting chess of one of the great tactical masters.”
“Taylor Kingston has been a chess enthusiast since his teens. His historical articles have appeared in many chess journals, including Chess Life, New In Chess, Inside Chess, and Kingpin. He is the editor of the recently released Emanuel Lasker: A Reader. In this book, he combines history and analysis in a new look at one of the early 20th century’s most variable but brightest stars.”
Edgard (not Edgar) Colle’s name is well known to most chess players through his highly popular opening (of two main variants), The Colle System. You might argue that this was the club player’s opening of choice possibly usurped, in recent times, by the unfortunately ubiquitous London System.
However, rather unfairly, Colle himself is almost certainly not as well known as he deserves to be. Players of all levels really ought to take time to study his games with both colours since his attacking style is rather attractive and instructive.
The biographies section of the BCN library somewhat disappointingly only had one other book about Colle and that was the not-so-easy to obtain “Colle Plays The Colle System” by Adam Harvey published by Chess Enterprises in 2002.
but the above tome spends very little text on the master himself and only covers games with the white pieces and the Colle System.
Taylor Kingston’s book (also available as a Kindle eBook) is divided into two main parts as follows :
Part I: Biographical Basics, Historical Background, Colleague’s Reminiscences and Memorial Tributes
Part II: Annotated Games
and each of these is further sub-divided.
To see the extensive Table of Contents you may Look Inside the Kindle edition.
The book kicks off with a rather insightful Foreword from GM Andrew Soltis suggesting ECs lack of eminence stems from his premature early demise aged 34.
Pages 12 – 28 present biographical material from varied sources, some fairly obscure. We like obscure sources!
Fairly quickly (page 29) we find ourselves at Part II and the Annotated Games and this part, in turn, is divided into eleven sections with the following titles:
An abundance of Brilliances
Colle Lucks Out
Follies, Failures, and Might-Have-Been
Colle and the Endgame
Colle and Positional Play
Colle’s Fighting Games
Salvaging the Draw
Colle and Yates
Each game is complete with historical background and context allowing one to learn more of Colle, his opponents and the tournaments they met at. The text is joyfully sprinkled with monochrome photographs of many opponents and potted biographies including that of Englishman George M. Norman (1880 – 1966) with whom we were unfamiliar until this book.
“Follies, Failures, and Might-Have-Been” is particularly unusual since the author selects games where our hero goes astray and does not win in crushing fashion but loses himself providing a healthy balance. The opposition here includes players such as Euwe, Capablanca, Nimzovitsch, Vidmar and Tartakower so nothing to be ashamed of.
“Colle and the Endgame” was another delightful chapter and perhaps not to be expected. Here is a game (here not annotated by TK but by Fred Reinfeld) from Budapest 1929 between Akiba Rubinstein and EC:
You will need to buy the book to appreciate the authors fuller annotations.
From the chapter “Colle’s Gem” we could not resist giving you this game but, again, without TKs superb annotations:
Wonderful stuff indeed but please enjoy the full author annotations.
In summary, this is a delightful book that all in the BCN office wanted to take home. In many ways this volume could of easily been a McFarland publication with a hard cover to be found in a library and all the gravitas that publisher brings. Hats off to Russell Enterprises for landing this one.
If you haven’t realised by now this one of our favourite books of 2021.
Currently living in Alnwick, Northumberland, England.
Daniel has been a chess professional for over twenty years, in which time he has played in many tournaments both in the U.K. and abroad. He has represented England in the European team championships and the Olympiad. Daniel has taken high placing in the British chess championships and on several occasions has placed in a tie for second. He is also the two times winner of the English rapid play championships.
In 2005 he scored his final Grandmaster norm in a tournament in Gibraltar, where he scored a 2693 performance. In that tournament he played against several world-class grandmasters, including Nakamura, Aronian, Sutovsky and Dreev, and only lost one game.
He is also the author of several well-received chess books, including A Year in the Chess World and Mating the Castled King, one of the few western chess books in recent years to be translated into Chinese.
As a writer he is known for his laid-back and humorous style.”
From the author’s introduction:
I’ve become increasingly convinced of this comfort zone theory to the degree where I’ve started to apply it to chess. To use the same logic, I believe a chess player is more comfortable in an opening that they have played since childhood. They’ll be less likely to make mistakes in that opening. You can also apply it to tournaments as well.
During the course of the book, I’ll talk about the tournaments that I felt comfortable in, and by the same token the opponents that I felt comfortable facing and the ones that I didn’t feel so happy to play.
Well, yes. I guess we’re all more comfortable in openings we know well than in openings we’ve never played before. I guess the Pope’s Catholic as well.
What Daniel Gormally offers his readers is twelve chapters covering different aspects of chess, with the concept of the Comfort Zone being discussed in the first chapter and, perhaps, a very loose connecting link with the rest of the book. His points are illustrated both by his own games and games from a wide range of other players.
If you’re familiar with his writings you won’t be surprised that he is at times brutally honest about his anxieties and phobias, and about the often tragi-comic life of a chess professional. You also won’t be surprised that the book is addictively readable, with nuggets of wisdom on almost every page which will benefit players of all levels.
In Chapter 1 Gormally introduces his theory, explaining that younger players are more likely than older players to be comfortable playing online because they’ve grown up with it.
He relates how he grew up solving Leonard Barden’s tactical puzzles in the Evening Standard, and, as a result is more comfortable in tactical situations.
I never had a chess coach who took me aside and taught the finer points of chess strategy. In fact, I never had any coaching full stop, and am probably the walking advert for the pointlessness of chess coaching. Or perhaps you could argue, I could have gone even further with the right sort of guidance.
White most authors are eager to demonstrate their best games, Gormally, typically, also likes to show us his worst games.
I found this position instructive.
In this position (Stevenage 2019) he was black against one of his regular opponents, Mark Hebden, and chose 19… Qb6?!. Let’s take it forward with some of the author’s notes.
In a practical sense this probably isn’t that bad – I step out of the threat of Nc6. The problem is I miss something much stronger.
When putting this game onto Stockfish 12 it suggested that 19… Bxd4! 20. exd4 Ne4 gave Black a huge advantage. I must admit I was quite surprised by this, probably because I hardly considered the capture on d4 at all during the game. I was fixated by the idea of hacking away on the kingside, so the idea of exchanging the dark-squared bishop didn’t really occur to me at all.
This is one of the greatest weapons that a chess player has available – the ability to change ships midstream, to transform the position with a strategic idea or exchange. Bobby Fischer was a master at this, for example. I think the main idea is that by taking on d4 and exchanging pieces, Black magnifies the poor position of the knight on a2. The more exchanges that take place – the more a poor piece will be exposed.
The game continued 20. Rfd1 Bg4 21. f3 Bh5?
And this is a serious mistake and betrays a lack of understanding. I leave the queenside to its own fate, and underestimate just how bad my position can become.
Now White takes over the initiative. I think I wasn’t helped by the fact that I’ve found Mark an awkward opponent recently, particularly with the black pieces. During the game he gave off this impression of being bored, like he was impatient when he was waiting for my moves. That fed into my anxiety and made me even more jumpy. I was beginning to regret those extra couple of pints I had sneaked in at the bar the night before.
White is now winning because he has a simple plan of pushing his pawns on the kingside, and it turns out the minor pieces on that side of the board are just targets for that strategy.
These notes typify Gormally’s combination of lucid verbal explanations and self-deprecating humour. If you like his style you’ll enjoy this book.
Chapter 2 is relatively brief, about how even the best players sometimes make superficial decisions.
In Chapter 3, Gormally talks about preparing for the 1999 British Championship. This seems to have been written partly as a tribute to his friend John Naylor, who died last year. He demonstrates one of John’s games from the tournament.
Chapter 4 introduces us to the concept of ‘competitive conditioning’: being mentally tough and confident like Magnus Carlsen, or the golfer Brooks Koepka. Here, we start off at the 2000 British before moving onto the 2020 Online British Championship and back to the 2017 British.
In Chapter 5, Gormally explains why computers are narrowing opening theory. This is certainly true at the top level, but is it true at club level? I suspect not – and perhaps the opposite is even the case.
He shows us this game, where his 7th move gave him something very close to a winning advantage. This was in part computer preparation, because he was expecting his opponent to play that line, but he’d already met it in an earlier game against Lawrence Trent, where, playing Black, he’d managed to scramble a draw.
Chapter 6 starts off with some banter blitz games between the Vietnamese player Le Quang Liem and Lawrence Trent before going off onto a different subject.
Hang on a minute: I’m not sure that I should bother to explain each chapter in this way. The book doesn’t really work like that. It’s more a stream of consciousness, jumping fairly randomly from one topic to another, which has been broken down into chapters because, well, that’s how books work.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Because it covers a wide range of topics in a fairly general way, it’s suitable for a wide range of players: regardless of your rating you may well enjoy and benefit from this book.
Here’s an interesting position from a game Keith Arkell played against Aurelio Colmenares in a 2008 Swiss (in more ways than one) tournament. Keith was black, to move, in this position and continued with the natural Rc2. How would you assess it?
It was around about this time that Simon (Williams) and myself went to view the game. Simon thought that White was better, because of the a-pawn. When we told Keith about this conversation later, he was adamant that Black was better, because in his view the White a-pawn can be easily restrained and the black kingside has unlimited potential. So, if Black does have a winning strategy, it’s as follows; when White goes a4, put the rook on a2. Eventually White can put the rook on a8 and the pawn on a7, but he can’t make any progress after that. If he moves the rook, he loses the a-pawn.
So, with White’s trump card stymied, Black’s plan is to gradually advance on the kingside, suffocating White. Keith manages to carry out this strategic plan to perfection.
In Chapter 8, Gormally looks at his games from the online Hastings tournament last January, discussing how to play against specific types of opponent such as the Tactical Genius (Gawain Jones) and the Perfectionist (David Howell), while characterising himself as the Wimpy Draw Lover (that makes two of us, then).
Chapter 9 is about patience: Gormally quotes Garry Kasparov, over dinner with IM (and RJCC alumnus) Ali Mortazavi, saying that to be a super grandmaster you need to have the ability to play twelve strengthening moves in a row. IMs and weaker GMs will perhaps play six strengthening moves and then lose patience and go for an attack that isn’t there.
On the other hand, the following chapter discusses the Madman Theory. Play like Alireza Firouzja: randomise the position and then out-calculate your opponent. A very different approach: putting the two chapters together is certainly thought provoking.
If you’re looking for a logical, well-structured book on a specific aspect of chess, this isn’t it. I found the contents fairly arbitrary, often digressive, very personal and sometimes rather contradictory. Now I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all: many readers (including this reviewer) will enjoy it for precisely these reasons, and I’m sure there’s a market for books of this nature. What you do get is a lot of chess: games played by Gormally himself, his friends, colleagues and students, and top grandmasters from Tal through to Carlsen. The annotations are, I thought, excellent, with clear and insightful explanations rather than reams of improbable computer-generated tactics. You get a lot of very useful general advice about the nature of chess and how best to improve your play. You get a lot of stories and anecdotes about life on the tournament circuit, often concerning smoking, drinking and clubbing, which you might find highly entertaining, extremely depressing, or perhaps both. If you like the sound of this book, you won’t be disappointed.
There’s something for everyone here, and this compulsively readable book is recommended for anyone rated between about 1500 and 2500.
As usual with Thinkers Publishing, production standards are generally high, but the proofing is well below the standards you might expect from books on other subjects. Yes, I’m well aware this takes time and money, and requires a wide range of knowledge and skills, but there are some of us out there who care about this sort of thing.
Richard James, Twickenham 13th December 2021
Book Details :
Softcover: 264 pages
Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (19 July 2021)
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